Wednesday, April 11, 2012

my quest for health (part 1)

So I'm about two months into a healthy lifestyle, and the once chronic allergies are at bay. I thought I'd share a bit of what's been going on.

I've had allergies since I was a kid, developing asthma at age six. When the wheezing started I was brought by my mom to see the family allergist in Philadelphia, an elderly man named Dr. Tuft. He had treated my grandmother, who raved about him, and also saw my brother.

Getting pricked by a needle at this age was traumatic, though my mom tried to soothe me by reading me her own favorite children's book, Raggedy Ann. Early on I went often and the appointments were long. Everything in the office- the furniture, the equipment, (glass needles which were sterilized in house) the doctor and his nurse Muriel were from a bygone era. I can still remember the funky smell of that place. I grew up getting weekly shots from a neighbor who was a nurse, and checked in with Dr. Tuft every few months. He would ask a few questions, look up my nose, listen to my breathing, adjust my serums according to the season, ask about my grandmother and send me on my way. Despite the weekly shots, I still had periodic attacks which were treated with an inhaler and pills. They would always occur at 3am.

My nasal allergies weren't that much of a problem, and it's possible they were kept under control with the injections. I continued with the treatments through college, until I became an adult and starting seeing my own allergist. He lacked the gentle charm of Dr. Tuft. I began to question whether the shots were doing anything, and eventually stopped seeing the doctor.

When I returned to college to study art at the age of 25, I fell into a life that was riddled with allergens. I lived in Richmond, Virginia, which is hot and sticky, and thus thick with pollen and mold spores. Many of my friends smoked cigarettes and owned cats. During one night of socializing at a friend's apartment, my asthma got so bad that it was beyond the inhaler's control. I had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment. Fortunately the university I attended has a fairly progressive medical school, which runs the student health services. I was under the care of a female doctor who asked questions, gave advice and listened. I was given two inhalers- one as a preventative and one for symptoms. The doctor advised me to control my environment by avoiding cats, dusting often and ridding my space of rugs, curtains and other things which hold dust. She told me to get an air purifier and to stop using perfumed laundry detergent and cleaners.

Eventually I expressed my wish to get off the inhalers- I didn't like how they were making me feel. The doctor said she respected my choice and let me go. About the same time my nasal allergies started to get worse, and it was then that I began to explore so-called alternative methods. I got a job at Grace Place, a venerable vegetarian restaurant and health food store. I tried various supplements, very much experimenting at this time. Akili, who worked at the health food store, consulted Prescription for Nutritional Healing. The book recommended vitamin C, quercetin, acidophilus, pantothenic acid and adrenals. I tried everything but the adrenals since I was vegetarian at the time. The acidophilus pills were too powerful for me, causing my stomach to feel empty, like I was starving. I have continued to keep vitamin C in my arsenal, as it is effective during attacks. Working at Grace Place, I was surrounded by health enthusiasts and a wealth of natural foods, products and books. I read Beyond Beef, Diet for a New America (a gift from Michael, the owner) and Sugar Blues. The literature table in the front hall was filled with brochures from natural and new age healers. Looking back on what I ate, I can see how much of it- brown rice, beans, tofu, tempeh, veggies, fruit, and chef Michael King's delicious soups, was very healthy. On the other hand, I also ate lots of wheat bread, cheese, sweet desserts and drank coffee and beer. I was sneezing my head off, aware of the environmental triggers, but unaware of the dietary causes. (I should have taken Sugar Blues to heart)

Upon moving to Los Angeles in 1997 the dry climate abated my asthma, but my nasal allergies continued to worsen due to the poor air quality. I started getting acupuncture, which didn't seem to help. I recall that the practitioner never asked me about my diet. He did however introduce me to healing herbs, in capsule form. I then wandered into the massive and well-stocked Herb King in Santa Monica, where I started seeing Deborah, a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. She examined my tongue, felt my pulse and asked me questions about my digestion. Before devising a custom herbal formula, she gave me a list of foods to avoid: Wheat, Dairy, Caffeine, Sugar, Fried Foods, Processed Foods and Raw Foods. I made the tea in a large stock pot. It consisted of tree bark, seed pods, dried berries and the like. It smelled bad and tasted worse. I grudgingly drank the tea and (sort of) stuck to the diet. But still my allergies persisted.

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